Five tips to help your child ease back into school

Going back to school or starting for the first time can be stressful, but there are ways to help ease the transition.

Whether your child is starting school for the first time or returning after the long summer break, a degree of anxiety is not unusual. It can also be a stressful time for parents as well as we readjust to juggling work, education, and childcare schedules. 

Most specialists working with children agree that a certain amount of angst about going back or starting school can be normal and usually isn’t harmful. But preventing your child’s anxiety from escalating should be a priority.

“While it is normal for your child to have worries, it is vital to have him or her go to school,” says child psychologist and author Michael Carr-Gregg. “Missing school ratchets up your child’s fears because he or she never gets a chance to face them and discover if the worries are real.” 

These five tips can help minimise your child’s anxiety at this challenging time.

1. Present school worries as normal, not exceptional

Showering your child with affection can validate his or her anxiety and may actually be counterproductive, says Carr-Gregg. Instead, he advises, “Simply listen to your child’s concerns. What is she or he worried about? And why does she or he expect that to happen? Once you know what’s bothering your child, you can start to develop a coping plan.”

2. Remember the basics

While identifying the immediate cause of your child’s anxiety is important, it’s also worth thinking about their overall health – especially after a period of less structured holiday time. 

“Ensure your child is eating regular meals and healthy snacks and has daily exercise,” advises Carr-Gregg. 

Getting enough sleep is also important: he recommends 10 hours a night during term time for primary-school students and nine hours a night for high-school students.
Worried boy in car

3. Learn to recognise a more serious problem

It’s important to understand what constitutes ‘normal’ back-to-school anxiety so you know when to seek help when things escalate. Dr George Halasz, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, says parents should seek professional help if any of the following occurs:

  • Your child’s anxiety persists beyond a few weeks.
  • Your child’s condition is deteriorating.
  • Your child cannot go to school at all – the equivalent to an adult being unable to turn up to work.
  • There are signs of distress in addition to the anxiety, such as nightmares, poor sleep, loss of appetite, loss of energy and persistent sadness.

4. Take advantage of technology

It may present a number of issues for modern-day parents, but technology can help your child cope with anxiety, says Carr-Gregg. “The regular use of mindfulness apps like Smiling Mind can keep anxiety under control,” he says. “Online, the free BRAVE program teaches children how to cope with anxiety. There are also two great apps from Reachout.com: ReachOut Breathe, which helps to stop panic attacks, and ReachOut WorryTime.” 

5. Try to remain calm

It’s easy to forget how much our behaviour can influence our kid’s behaviour. Both Halasz and Carr-Gregg say it’s worth keeping your own health in mind during this time. 

“It can be anxiety-provoking for parents to hand over care and responsibility of their child to teachers,” says Carr-Gregg. “Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and calm you can model, the more your child will believe he or she can handle this hurdle.”

So, as the holidays draw to a close, use these tips to help your child ease back into school.
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